A full head of lustrous black hair is among the most sought-after marks of beauty for Japanese women. This goal was shared by many women through the times, from the nobles of the Heian Period to the townsfolk of the Edo Period, who all put great care into maintaining their hair with a variety of traditional haircare products and tools. Many of these tools can still be sought today across Japan, and can still make great additions to any modern person’s haircare routine.
This article will travel back in the timeline of beauty, and introduce a variety of traditional haircare products that can be found in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward. Genuine animal-fur brushes and camellia oil are both products with long histories in Japanese women’s pursuit of beautiful hair. With a quick read, you will learn how to get them, what makes them special, and how to bring an ancient Japanese haircare routine into your everyday life!
Haircare & Beauty through Japanese History
Although recent decades in Japan have seen the rise in popularity of colored hair, prompting rumors of the “end of the black-hair era”, a head of long black hair as a mark of beauty continues to be deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Since ancient times, a common phrase tells “hair is a woman’s life”.
Heian Era’s hairstyle "Osuberakashi"
When told to imagine the typical Noble of the Heian Era (794-1192), many Japanese people would imagine perfectly straight, black hair. This era saw the birth of many pieces of classical Japanese literature, such as the "Manyoshu" and "Kokin Wakashu", and was also an age of extravagance for the nobility.
The iconic standard of beautiful hair at the time was the "Osuberakashi" style, characterized by long, free-falling black hair. This can be seen in Japanese artwork depicting the time, including the "Hyakunin-Isshu" cards. The most common tool of maintenance was the comb, and its usage is also described in the "Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari)", a classical Japanese story of the 11th century.
Tied hair became popular in the Edo Period
As centuries passed and the Edo Period (1603 - 1868) rolled around, woman grew a culture of tying their hair up.
After applying products such as camellia oil to the hair, women of the Edo period often gathered their hair into a kind of bun. To keep their hair from touching the kimono, a style of wearing the collar more widely became commonplace. A whitening powder was applied to the neck and face, creating a visual contrast between the black hair and fair skin.
Even as western culture was permeating into Japan in the later Edo Period, Japanese women continued to pursue the beauty of their dark hair. While incorporating western tools like brushes into their haircare routine on the way, the Japanese culture of haircare is one that has continuously been preserved dearly through the generations.
Finding Traditional Haircare Products in Tokyo! Where can you Find Them?
The Japanese pursuit of beautiful hair has come to be a popular topic for women overseas too. Especially in the modern day where hair irons and dyes are so common, traditional tools and products might make great additions to your daily haircare routines!
The Chuo Ward of Tokyo that we visit, has a great variety of long-standing businesses that we explore in this article in search of traditional haircare products!
Honto Tsubaki’s Camellia Oil
About a 5-minute walk away from Shintomicho Station is the main building of "Honto Tsubaki", a specialty camellia oil producer established in 1910. We were guided by Mr. Nomura, one of the administrative staff of Honto Tsubaki.
Introduction and Experience booth in front of the company
As the name suggests, camellia oil is extracted from camellia seeds. According to ancient documents, it is a product with deep roots in Japanese daily life that dates back to as early as the Heian Era.
Although it is commonly used for hair, this 100% plant-derived oil is actually excellent for skincare as well, due to an ingredient in it called oleic acid.
Camellia contains an abundance of oleic acid
Just as birds apply their own oils to give their feathers their sheen, human skin is constantly moisturized by its own oils. Oleic acid, as Mr. Nomura tells us, is the very ingredient in our bodily oils that gives our skin their natural shine.
Camellia oil includes an astounding 80% concentration of this oleic acid, which is exceptionally high compared to other well-known vegetable-based oils. Olive oil has a 65% concentration, and amani oil and egoma oil barely have 20%. Because its comprising ingredients are very close to that of human oils, camellia oil adapts incredibly well to the human body and brings out the natural beauty of our skin and hair.
Honto Tsubaki’s Commitment to Camellia Oil
The founder of Honto Tsubaki is from Toshima, one of the Izu Islands in Tokyo, where camellia is a special product. An industry of high-quality camellia oil has flourished in Toshima since the Edo Era, and has been a supporting pillar of this island's economy.
The rightmost oil is made from Toshima Camellia 100%
Honto Tsubaki's camellia oil was brought to being by the original founder, with the hope that the people of mainland Japan will use, and learn the benefits of Toshima's camellia oil. With a commitment to 100% unadulterated camellia oil, Honto Tsubaki continues today to output high-quality products to the industry.
Honto Tsubaki oil is the only Tsubaki oil in Japan that has obtained halal certification.
How to use Camellia Oil in your Haircare Routine
Camellia oil can be a bewildering product to apply to the hair at first. Some struggle to find the appropriate amount to apply to the hair, while others do not know where on the hair to apply it. Camellia oil also degrades over time, making its usage difficult to pace over time. The next section will show you how to properly apply camellia oil to your hair, so you do not have to make these mistakes!
【Q】 How much should be applied at once?
【A】 If you feel that your oil usage is correct, but your hair always somehow ends up sticky, you may be applying a little bit too much. Camellia oil has great coverage, so just 2 or 3 drops will be enough for somebody with medium-length hair.
Daily care for undamaged hair should only need 2 or 3 drops
Spread the camellia oil over the palm and apply it to the hair, starting at the tips. If you do not feel there is enough, you can always add more later.
Focus on the hair tips, which are most prone to damage
【Q】How long will one bottle last?
【A】Although it depends on your hair length too, a single bottle should last about 2 to 3 months. Camellia oil is has a low susceptibility to oxidization, and will maintain its quality for very long period of time. That being said, exposure to air will still cause gradual oxidization, so make sure to tighten the lid during storage.
Before applying the camellia oil. The hair has a visible lack of shine
After applying the camellia oil. The tips look moisturized, and the hair more alive in general.
Going into a new "oil", you might expect a less frequently used, special haircare product similar to many skincare oils. Unlike those, many of which are only used once a week and such, camellia oil can and should be used every day. Because it is a natural oil, infrequent use may not give it the desired effect.
Ms. Nomura tells us: "Camellia Oil is a naturally-derived essence that brings out your hair's inherent strength and shine. Everyday usage will gradually show its effect, and make an especially noticeable difference in 10 to 20 years. I think it is an especially beneficial product for young people."
Camellia oil has proven its haircare effects over the centuries since the Heian Period, and is an almighty product for people all around the world. Try incorporating it into your daily haircare/skincare routines to bring out the natural beauty of your body!
Edoya’s Hair Brushes
From the Heian to Edo Period, the most popular tool of haircare was the rigid comb, due to its great compatibility with oil. However, with the coming of the later Edo and Meiji Period, the western hair brush entered people's lives. The article's next stop will be "Edoya", a brush store with a history dating back to the Edo Period.
Edoya's current exterior has a modern look to it
A 3-minute walk from Kodenma-cho Station is Edoya, a specialty store that has been handling brushes all the way since the Edo Period. At the time, the Edo Shogunate had gathered many craftsmen from western Japan to the capital, to open their businesses near Edo Castle. Cotton crafts flourished most in this area, and this can also be seen in a contemporary Ukiyo-e (by Hiroshige Utagawa) displayed in Edo-ya.
"Tohto Odenmagai Han-ei no zu" painted by Hiroshige Utagawa
"This particular area of Nihonbashi used to be right at the foot of Edo Castle. It was a typical 'castle town' at the time" says current CEO, Mr. Hamada.
Edoya CEO Mr. Hamada
Daidenmacho is surrounded by buildings, but Edoya has an eye-catching exterior with a western-style artificial exterior on top of a Japanese-style wooden store. The store has been handed down since the establishment of a traditional building with wooden tiled roofs to a modern building that incorporates Western style in 1914.
The bulk of Odenmacho's townscape is filled with modern-looking buildings, and Edoya stands among them with its unique appearance. The Japanese-style wooden architecture of Edoya is built over with western-style artifical stone. This modern exterior has been maintained since 1925, when the store was renovated from its old, more traditional Japanese architecture with a wooden construction and roof tiles.
The Taisho Era order book is still preserved.
The interior has a dense aura of tradition, and a wide selection of brushes, "hake" brushes (traditional Japanese horizontal brushes), scourers.
The focus of this article is of course, the hair brush. Mr. Hamada tells us that at the time of the Edo Period, western-style brushes had not yet entered the mainstream. It was only with the arrival of Commodore Perry and the American warships in the late Edo Period, that this changed.
"As kimonos made way for western attire, which required new kinds of brushes to clean their shoes and fabrics, hair brushes also became more and more popular" said Mr. Hamada. The traditional style of applying oil to the hair, and using a comb was slowly replaced by animal-fur hair brushes. Haircare took on a new diversity in this era.
Edoya’s Hair brush
The Types of Fur Used on Edoya's Hair Brushes
The hair brushes handled by Edoya can be largely separated into those with boar fur, and those with pig fur. Pig fur is further subdivided into special-grade black pig fur, special-grade white pig fur, standard pig fur, and sesami pig fur. What makes each one special? Let us find out.
■ Boar Fur
Boar fur is the stiffest of the 5 types. Its stiff bristles make easy work of tangly hair, and are great for people with densely hair-covered scalps, and hard strands.
■ Special-grade Black Pig Fur
The special-grade black pig fur is similar in texture to the boar fur, but differs in length. The long bristles easily catch the hair it passes, making it a great choice for those with large quantities of hair, or longer hair.
■ Special-grade White Pig Fur
The special-grade white pig fur is more robust than standard pig fur, but still offers a softer brushing experience. It is perfect for those with thin, soft hair strands or silky-straight hair.
Different brushes have different hair densities and lengths.
■ Pig Fur
Standard pig fur is softer than all of boar fur, special-grade white pig fur, and special-grade black pig fur. To give them the integrity they need, they are made with a denser concentration of fur than the other brushes. The thin, soft fur combs the hair while gently massaging the scalp, making it a great choice for those with weak scalps and aging hair.
■Sesame Pig Fur
Sesami pig fur is made by mixing special-grade white and black pig fur. With a special method called dual-stage planting, these brushes offer a very soft combing experience. It is a great choice for those with thinning heads of hair, or who want to minimize scalp damage.
Hair brushes at Edoya can be chosen according to your hair length, hardness, and damage level, but the most important thing is to try them out firsthand, and choose the one that feels the best. The hair brushes use genuine animal fur, and soften any tangles with only a few strokes. Their lack of plastic and rubber also make them much less prone to static electricity.
A lot of kinds of good quality and easy to use Brushes are lined up
Clothes brush that is a popular product. There are different types that specialize in Japanese and western clothes.
All 5 types of these hair brushes have come to be, thanks to Edoya's long history and rich knowledge of different fur qualities. Pay them a visit, and see how they feel on your own hair!
Feel the History! Traditional Japanese Haircare Tools & Products
Both camellia oil and hair brushes were haircare items, treasured by many Japanese women through the eras. If you use a rigid comb on your hair, camellia oil might make a great addition. On the other hand, if you use a plastic brush, a genuine animal-fur hairbrush might greatly improve your daily life. Pick the best traditional tools for you, and implement an old Japanese haircare routine into your daily life!